Preview: Saracens v Leicester

Date published: May 20 2016

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Saracens' quest to complete an historic double faces a sizeable hurdle this Saturday when they host perennial semi-finalists Leicester Tigers.

It's a measure of both sides' success that once again we will see one of the two sides back in the final for the 13th straight year.

Leicester have not quite been reborn this season but certainly remodelled, that double signing of Telusa Veainu and Peter Betham proving to be a masterstroke combined with the arrival of Aaron Mauger as head coach.

Their maul still packs a punch but the tries scored by the Tigers out wide this season have caused people to sit up and take notice.

Saracens meanwhile have had the gaze of European rugby on them since the season began, and last week's European Cup will have silenced several doubters.

Channelling the emotions from that win into a victory on Saturday will have tested Mark McCall's squad this week, but after dismantling Leicester upfront when the two sides met on January 2 they will be full of confidence.

In team news Saracens have named an unchanged starting XV that defeated Racing 92 in the Champions Cup Final last weekend. With the only change to the matchday squad being Neil de Kock taking Ben Spencer’s place on the bench.

At full-back, the recently crowned Premiership Player of the Year Alex Goode starts and will be joined by Chris Ashton and Chris Wyles in the Sarries back three.

At centre Duncan Taylor will partner captain Brad Barritt in the midfield, whilst in the halves Owen Farrell (fly-half) and Richard Wigglesworth (scrum-half) continue.

Up front, Mako Vunipola (loosehead prop) is joined by Schalk Brits (hooker) and Petrus Du Plessis (tighthead prop).

In the second-row, European Rugby’s Player of the Year Maro Itoje will be joined by George Kruis while in the back row, Michael Rhodes continues at blindside flanker with Will Fraser (openside flanker) and Billy Vunipola (number eight) also named.

Meanwhile, Manu Tuilagi, Mike Fitzgerald and Brendon O'Connor return to the Leicester Tigers team. 

Tuilagi and Fitzgerald missed the last two games of the league season, while O'Connor is named in the back-row for the first time since the European Champions Cup quarter-final win over Stade Francais.

Harry Thacker, the Citizen Try of the Season winner at this week's Aviva Premiership awards, joins international duo Marcos Ayerza and Dan Cole in the front row, while Fitzgerald and O'Connor join number eight Lachlan McCaffrey in the back-row.

Veainu joins captain Mathew Tait and top try-scorer Vereniki Goneva in the back three, with Tuilagi alongside Betham at centre.

Players to Watch

For Saracens: Fresh from being named Premiership Player of the Season, Alex Goode will be hoping to have more impact this Saturday's contest than he did in the cagey final last weekend in Lyon. Has often been the best player on the park by a mile in games this season and appears certain to start against the Wallabies next month.

For Leicester: One of the finds of the season has undoubtedly been Harry Thacker, the Tigers' hooker who plays like an extra back-row and has the speed to tear open defences, as we saw with his Try of the Season winner against Northampton. Faces a real task at the breakdown.

Head to head: The two talented scrum-halves, Richard Wigglesworth and Ben Youngs will be making their presence and voices heard as both of them are known to get quick quality ball to their skillful backs. However the battle between the hookers, Schalk Brits and Harry Thacker, is certainly one that will not be of a traditional front-row battle. Both these hookers are known to create space with their darting profilic running lines.

Prediction: Leicester feel a season away from winning this type of contest at Allianz Park, but it will be tight. Saracens by six. 

Form: Neither side will be intimidated by the occasion, with Sarries in their seventh semi-final in succession and the Tigers in their 12th. The Tigers will take some confidence from their 21-13 win over Saracens the last time the sides met back in March, although since that game the north Londoners have won every match they have played in all competitions. Leicester have lost on their last three visits to Allianz Park.

The teams:

Saracens: 15 Alex Goode, 14 Chris Ashton, 13 Duncan Taylor, 12 Brad Barritt (c,) 11 Chris Wyles, 10 Owen Farrell, 9 Richard Wigglesworth, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Will Fraser, 6 Michael Rhodes, 5 George Kruis, 4 Maro Itoje, 3 Petrus Du Plessis, 2 Schalk Brits, 1 Mako Vunipola
Replacements: 16 Jamie George, 17 Richard Barrington, 18 Juan Figallo, 19 Jim Hamilton, 20 Jackson Wray, 21 Neil De Kock, 22 Charlie Hodgson, 23 Marcelo Bosch

Leicester: 15 Mathew Tait (c), 14 Telusa Veainu, 13 Peter Betham, 12 Manu Tuilagi, 11 Vereniki Goneva, 10 Owen Williams, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Lachlan McCaffrey, 7 Brendon O'Connor, 6 Mike Fitzgerald, 5 Graham Kitchener, 4 Dom Barrow, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Harry Thacker, 1 Marcos Ayerza
Replacements: 16 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 17 Ellis Genge, 18 Logovi'i Mulipola, 19 Ed Slater, 20 Will Evans, 21 Jono Kitto, 22 Tommy Bell, 23 Adam Thompstone

Date: Saturday, May 21
Venue: Allianz Park
Kick-off: 12:30 BST (11:30 GMT)
Referee: JP Doyle
Assistant Referees: Craig Maxwell-Keys, Paul Dix 
TMO: Graham Hughes

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